God provides real examples of real people. They are moral people with great intentions of doing good and failing miserably. However, God still uses them to accomplish his purposes. Almost every story in the Bible mirrors our own struggles with sin. Sometimes we want very good things, but they are still contrary to complete trust and dependence on God. Placing confidence in good works is so easy because by nature we want to be like God, knowing good and evil. When we place our confidence in the flesh, we choke the Spirit. We strangle the very relationship given to us to stand against sin.
Philippians 3 confronted my pride of self-reliance, that pesky plaguing sin. A situation confronted me with a choice, count as rubbish my good works or be offended because someone, who had never spoken to me, judged my ministry. Honestly, I wanted to be offended. This person, who passed judgement on a situation that he has only heard one side of the story (and that side was not my side), doesn’t know the sleepless nights spent in anguished prayer, the broken heart that cried out to the Lord for guidance, the difficulty to stand before a leadership that said that the Bible couldn’t be used as a foundation, etc.
I can sum up my response in one-word: pride.
We must never forget that sin is predatory. Consider the language God used to call Cain to obedience in Genesis 4, He said, “Sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.” Crouching like a lion in wait for its prey seeking the right moment of weakness. Sin desires. God wants us to understand the nature of sin. What is the weakness? Cain was downcast because he wanted to depend on himself. He wanted to define for himself what kind of offering to give the Lord. He became angry at Abel because Abel did what was right. Cain allowed his feelings to rule his life. In his anger and frustration, he murdered his brother.
How does this story relate to Philippians 3? Consider our desires to be good enough or to do good works or be the right kind of person. If we want to put any confidence in our flesh, Paul lays out an argument that he is better in every way. He is a Hebrew of Hebrews. Born to the chosen of the chosen. He has the best possible family name. As to following the law, he’s been following the letter of the law since he was eight days old. As to education, he had the best. As to zeal, he persecuted those who disagreed with him. He writes that he is blameless, faultless before the law. And he counts everything that he once believed to be good as poop compared to knowing Christ.
Am I willing to think this way?
All my hard work, doing good, being righteous, working to be faultless before the law, standing against what God calls evil counted as poop. Do I after knowing Christ and experiencing forgiveness and the sweet embrace of freedom want to go back to being confident in my ability to do what is right? Therefore, the story of Cain and Abel is so relevant to us today. We easily fall back on our feelings. We become frustrated or angry, and forget that God desires for us to depend completely on him.
Our family name, reputation, education, good works, position in the church are poop! God wants you and me to come to the place where we will want the righteousness that comes from Christ, counting anything else as less than and worthless. Am I willing to rest completely in faith that my righteousness comes for God?
TODAY, I say an enthusiastic yes. Did I spend a few days in prayerful struggle, releasing whatever good works I thought were worthy to compare? Sadly, yes. I am one of those messed up real people just like the other characters in the Bible.
God reminded me that many people live as enemies of the cross, and I can choose to be one of those people. Philippians 3:19 says of them “their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is their shame.” The word stomach is the Greek word koilia, meaning 1, Belly, abdomen; 2, site of sexual organs, womb; 3, inner man. Here, Paul is rejecting more than the gluttonous and sexual excess, but also the undue estimation of this physical life because “their mind is set on earthly things.” These things may be good, worthy things, but they are of this world.
Our focus is to be on our heavenly citizenship. Do we eagerly await our Savior’s return? Or are we eagerly awaiting our earthly destiny to be fulfilled? Do we work for Christ’s return or is it about our purpose? There is a delicate line separating these two. We see it displayed in Cain. Cain wanted to give an offering. He wanted to do good. He had great intentions, but he wanted to serve the Lord on his own terms, in his own way. God gives us the same warning. Don’t let your feelings rule over you! Count as poop everything compared to knowing Christ. Let us participate in his sufferings, and stop running from suffering. Let us become like Christ in his death, completely obedient to the Father, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead.
Is faith easy? No, because we must learn to master our feelings and submit them to truth. There will be days that we struggle, but let us not lose hope. Even the Apostle Paul wrote that he had not obtained all this, arriving at his goal of knowing Christ and counting everything else as poop. Like him, we have to press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of us. It’s not that we have a hold of Christ, but that He has a hold of us! Therefore, we can forget what is behind and strain toward the prize for which God has called us heavenward in Christ Jesus. And one day by the power that enables Christ to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies, so that we will be like his glorious body.